You may say, “I don’t need to know anything about grief. No one in my family has died, and when someone does, I’ll fly home to the funeral.” If and when that happens, it may be one of your easier encounters with grief because everyone there will understand your grief, and your culture has developed rituals to enable you to resolve your grief. Although we commonly think of grief as related to the death of a loved one, there are many other causes of grief.
The dictionary defines grief as the “intense emotional suffering caused by loss of any kind.” Missionaries experience many losses that other people do not, so those people do not understand. There is no funeral or other ritual to assist in grieving over these losses. Missionaries may offer true, but over-spiritualized, platitudes in denial of the losses they experience. When people are dying and losing everything, we do not question their denial, anger, or depression before they come to accept their loss. Regarding losses other than death, missionaries may carry a load of unexpressed, unresolved grief.
More important than the “objective” severity of the loss is each person’s own interpretation of the loss. Leaving a pet may seem like a minor event to most people, but those who have had that pet for years may experience much grief. Here are several losses that may increase grief for missionaries.
Everyone understands the loss of friends and family, but what about the house, the car, the supermarket, the school, the pets, the newspaper, and the toys? All of these, and more, are lost as you leave your passport country to become missionaries. Any, or all, may cause grief.
You may develop two homes, one in your passport country and one on the field. When you come “home,” people there cannot understand that you feel the loss of the smells, the foods, the animals, the friendliness of the people, and the music of the country where you have been serving. Losing these may cause grief when you return to your passport country.
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